It's taken a bit more than a week, but I think I'm mostly over whatever bug had hold of me.  It's been a long time since I've been knocked as flat by a cold/flu/whatever as I was this time.  So apologies for the sparsity and possibly incomprehensibility of what posts I did manage to get up.

I'd like to take a couple of moments to talk about Knights in Tarnished Armor by Kate Paulk that will be coming out over the weekend.  Some of you may know Kate from Baen's Bar or any of the other discussion boards she takes part in.  To say Kate has an interesting sense of humor is to put it mildly.  She manages to take the ordinary, twist it in a mixture of Aussie irreverence and American cynicism and come out with something unexpected.  That's exactly what she's done with KITA.

When I was trying to describe it briefly yesterday, my first thought was it's a comedy of errors.  In many ways, that's exactly what it is.  But it is also a comedy of LETTERS, because the action is all revealed through a series of letters between our not so shining knights and their all too willing and frustrated maidens.  Throw in disapproving parents, a dragon and all too many schemes and, well, you have Knights in Tarnished Armor.

If you'd like to see more of Kate's work, check out Born in Blood and Hell of a JobBorn in Blood is a novella that basically sets the stage for her novel, Impaler, that will be coming out next year.  If you are interested in a new take on the history and mythology surrounding Vlad Dracul, check out both of these titles.

In the short story Hell of a Job, Kate gives us a refreshing look at what might happen if a scheming woman who really doesn't approve of the decor in the underworld becomes a Dark Lord and sets her cap on higher office.

Both Born in Blood and Hell of a Job are available at our webstore, simply follow the links above, or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  You can also find them at Smashwords.  Most of all, anything you buy from Naked Reader Press is DRM-free.

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This past week has been the week from Hell in a lot of ways.  As my last post noted, a dear cousin passed away.  Add to that my son having his first wreck — and totaling his truck — and, well, you get an idea of what my life’s been like.  Add in the 350 mile drive each way to attend my cousin’s funeral (which was held on the anniversary of my dad’s death — not that her family realized it when they planned the service).  So today I’m trying to play catch up, at least some, even as my brain and body are begging to go back to bed.

First off, for some business matters.  The website store will be back up either tomorrow or Tuesday.  Probably Tuesday.  I’ll announce it as soon as it’s live again.

Also, Dave Freer’s collection of short stories — The Goth Sex Kitten and Other Stories — will be available for purchase when the store goes live.  It will take a couple of days for it to show up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  We are now publishing directly through BN, just as we are Amazon.  Of course, you can still find us on Smashwords and through their affiliates as well.  Naturally, all our books and short stories are available through our site as well.

Okay, a couple of items of interest.  The review process for Amazon has come under fire again, specifically because people can rate books — and ebooks — without reading them and that their ratings can be based on anything.  The issue has been around for a long time but has been gaining notoriety after the agency model pricing of e-books came into being.  What is happening now is that a number of folks are giving 1-star reviews to e-books when they cost as much, or more, than the hard cover books.  This happens almost exclusively to e-books published by those houses under the agency model.  The hard cover prices can still be discounted by Amazon and are.  However, the publisher sets the price for the e-book.  This often means there is little or no difference between the cost of the digital copy and the cost of the hard copy.

What some people see as the crux of the matter is that Amazon allows customers to post reviews whether they’ve read the book or not.  As with other on-line retailers, all you have to do to post a review on Amazon is have an account with them.

I understand the concern over these negative reviews.  But to require Amazon to police the reviews so that only someone who has read a book can post would mean they would have to buy the book from Amazon.  That would prevent someone who borrowed it from the library, or who purchased it elsewhere, or who received it as a gift from ever posting a review.  That’s not the way to do it.

In my opinion, what Amazon needs to do is simply add another section to their reviews.  Rate the book for content and quality and then rate the book for pricing.  Most folks who give negative reviews for books due to their cost, say so in the body of the review.  That leads me to believe they would be honest and simply mark the cost/value portion of the review if they were offered that option.

But let’s face it, these reviews are anything but reliable.  If you follow any of the e-book boards, you will have seen instance after instance where authors (or their friends or family) have created multiple accounts to post glowing reviews for their loved one’s book.  This isn’t something unique to just Amazon.  So, if you are relying on the reviews by customers, you need to take them with a grain of salt.  Or at least you need to look at what else that reviewer has rated.  Often, you will find that they have never reviewed anything else.

In the meantime, remember that the review you give can and will impact an author’s sales.  So, until there is a way to show up front that you are marking the book down because of price, limit your review to what you liked or didn’t like about the contents of the book, not just the price.  Oh, and let the publishers know if you think the price is out of line.

Going hand-in-hand with the above is this article from the NY Times.  With the availability to look at, touch and play with e-book readers in such places as Walmart and Target this holiday season, there is the potential for the e-book market to really soar.  Will this be the tipping point?  I don’t know.  But it will be one giant step toward it, in my opinion.  With the explosive growth of e-books sales over the last couple of years, the lower prices for e-book readers, the wide availability of PC/Mac versions of the kindle/nook/sony/kobo, etc., programs so you can read on your computer, laptop or cellphone, e-books are no longer only for the technically inclined.  It is going to be interesting to see how the figures pan out over the next few months.

Finally, for the writers out there.  I recommend you take a look at this entry from Lucienne Diver’s blog.  Not only is she an agent with the Knight Agency, but she’s a wonderful author in her own right.  (Vamped and ReVamped)  Earlier this month, she had a post that really hit home with the writer side of me:

I suppose that the long and short of what I took away from this is that publication has never been easy…not the path to it or the continuation of the journey.  It’s never been painless.  No artist of any stripe has ever been universally loved or acclaimed.  In order to reach out and grab readers by the throat, authors have to be able to throw open the doors and windows to the soul.  Unfortunately, in letting their creativity out, those open doors allow for stiff, bracing and sometimes stormy winds to sweep through as well.  To me it’s a comfort that the literary greats went through the same vicissitudes we do today.  They survived.  Their names have gone down in history and, perhaps more importantly to them as writers, their works have remained in print.  We read them today, often thinking that they must have been aware of their own genius and been gratified by their success, while the truth is that authors do not sit back content with the accomplishment of their last release, but are constantly struggling with the new and wondering whether they’ll be able to live up to or exceed expectations.  I’m not sure whether there’s an actual saying that you’re only as good as your latest novel, but I do know that that’s how all writers feel.

So, for those of you battling toward attainment of your dreams, whether they be of initial or continued publication, take comfort in the shared pain and find compatriots with whom to celebrate your triumphs.  Appreciate them when they come and pull out the memories of them to get you through the hard times.

And, with that in mind, I leave you to the rest of the weekend.

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Well, it was an interesting Sunday, in the proverbial sense of the word.  When I posted yesterday morning, I had every intention of spending the day writing and watching football with friends.  Well, I accomplished the latter. Friends came over to watch — gasp — the Cowboys beat the Giants.  That was the high point in the day, sandwiched between news of how my almost 91 year old cousin did in surgery (partial hip replacement) and news that my son had been involved in an auto accident.  Both are okay, but it did sort of take the focus off of more mundane things like football and writing.

But it’s back to work today.  Let’s start with an article by Julie Bosman that appeared yesterday.  This will be the first holiday season when e-readers will be available in such retailers as Walmart, Target and Best Buy.  More importantly, they’ll be available at prices likely to entice purchases as gifts.  As noted in the article:

“This is the tipping-point season for e-readers, there’s no question,” said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company. “A lot more books are going to be sold in e-book format. It also means that a lot fewer people are going to be shopping in bookstores.”

If things go as forecast, according to the article, there could be as many as 103 e-readers in circulation by the end of the year.  To which I have only one thing to say:  COOL!  Especially the part of the article where the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy, says she expects e-book sales to “shoot up” on Christmas day.

To revisit a couple of topics from last week, Judith Griggs of Cooks Source Magazine has apologized again for using material from an author without permission.  In an interview, Griggs has pledged to be more vigilant about copyright.  It may be too little, too late to save the small magazine.  The internet uproar over what happened has cost the magazine advertisers, something no publication can afford to lose.  However, so much of this could have been avoided had Griggs either not used the article without permission or had simply issued an apology when requested.  Instead, her defensive stance may have cost her more than just a few advertisers if, as alleged, she did take articles from such big name sources as Food Network.  You can find more about this here.  Many thanks to Chris Meadows and TeleRead.com for keeping up with this situation.

Next up is the continuing saga of the book supposedly promoting pedophilia over at Amazon.  That slippery slope we discussed last week keeps getting more and more slippery.  Amazon has found itself in a no-win situation.  If they had left the book up, they would have been crucified for promoting a truly heinous crime.  By taking it down, they get crucified in some fora for censorship.  Then there are the cries that they didn’t act quickly enough — read that as immediately.  And, as predicted, they are now being hit with more demands from other groups to take down yet more books.  PETA has sent emails to Jeff Bezos demanding the removal of books about dog fighting, etc.  People on the different kindle and amazon boards are posting links to books they want taken down because these books are objectionable.  Barnes & Noble is now adding a disclaimer to book published through its PubIt program telling readers to report any objectionable material.

Then there is this article from PC World.  Entitled “5 Things to Learn from Amazon’s Latest PR Disaster”, it starts out by talking about how Amazon has backpedaled from an earlier stance about the book.  Yes, there is some backpedaling, no doubt about it.  The problem arose because Amazon responded too quickly, imo.  They issued their no censorship statement before reviewing the title in question.  Had they waited — and, yes, it would have been difficult to do so because of all the cries of outrage going viral across the internet — they could have issued a statement saying they were pulling the book due to a violation of their terms of service.  Instead, they jumped the gun in a knee-jerk reaction and it’s come back to bite them.

The one thing I will agree with in the article is that this has potentially tarnished the reputation of legitimate e-books.  I say potentially — a qualifier the author of the article does not use — because I do think most readers are more forgiving than the author is giving them credit for.  Otherwise, the first time someone read something they didn’t like, they’d quit reading — e-book or not.  Most people know there are books out there they aren’t going to agree with or enjoy.  They simply refuse to buy the book.  This is a storm that will blow over.

The real culprit when it comes to tarnishing the reputation of legitimate e-books is poor editing and proofreading.  Go to almost any e-book related forum and look at the number of instances where e-books are being criticized because of poor proofreading.  It doesn’t matter if the e-book comes from an established publishing house or a new e-press or the author himself.  OCR errors, overlooked spelling and punctuation errors, formatting errors are all driving readers up a wall.  This is what will hurt us the most in the long run

Overall, however, I think the author of the article has it right.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy or quick answer to keep this from happening again.  If it does, I just hope that the protests go straight to Amazon or whomever and they don’t go viral again.  If they do, I’m afraid we will see more and more restrictions being put on the DTP-type platforms, making it all but impossible for small presses and authors to publish through them.  And that will be a loss for everyone.

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Wednesday brought about another firestorm online.  So far, it’s been confined to a few blogs, facebook posts and is running rampant on the Amazon kindle boards.  At issue is whether or not Amazon should refuse to sell a book that has been listed by an author through its DTP platform.  (For those of you not familiar with the DTP platform, it is the platform that allows small publishers like NRP an self-published authors to put their e-books out on Amazon.  Barnes & Noble has a similar platform called PubIt.)

I’m not going to link to the book in question because I don’t want to give it any more promotion than it already has.  Let’s just say that this book discusses one of the most despised crimes there is.  The author says he wrote it to protect our children.  But it is also reported that he has said as well that he wrote it to help those engaging in this illegal activity avoid capture and prosecution.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the uproar to begin.  People are demanding Amazon take the book down and refuse to sell it.  The problem is that all their demands have done is increase curiosity in the book and, last I looked, it was now in the top 100 e-books on sale by Amazon.  Can you say major fail?

I want to make it perfectly clear that I would prefer this book and all like it never saw the light of day.  But they do — unfortunately, in my opinion.  So it becomes my right not to look at them and not to buy them.   I understand the outrage these readers feel.  But I could have told you when I saw the first protest earlier today what the outcome would be.  Whether or not Amazon pulled the book, before that happened many more copies would be sold and samples would be downloaded than would have been had there been no outcry.

As a writer and an editor, I also have concerns about Amazon pulling the book.  Unless the book violates their terms of service, to pull it would smack of censorship.  Once you start down that slippery slope, it’s hard to stop.  What becomes the criteria to pull a book that doesn’t violate the TOS?  Two demands from the buying public?  Three?  A dozen?

Think of it this way.  When the Harry Potter books came out, the hue and cry in some communities about how they glorified “witchcraft” and were anti-Christian filled the news.  Parents wanted the books pulled from library shelves.  Should those same protesters have had the ability to demand the book not be sold?

There’s one more thing to remember.  Amazon isn’t the publisher of this book.  It is the distributor.  To put e-books on their site through the DTP platform, you have to agree to their terms of service.  Part of the TOS includes language to the effect that the e-book doesn’t contain defamatory material or material that violates the laws of any jurisdiction.  So, I fully expect the folks at Amazon to pull the book once they’ve had a chance to review it because, if it does instruct perps on how to avoid capture and prosecution, it’s going to violate someone’s laws.

Do I understand the outrage at learning such a book had been published?  Absolutely.  But this time the crowd mentality — one person noted the title and posted his protest and everyone climbed on the bandwagon — did exactly what they didn’t want to happen.  It gave the book publicity and more sales than it probably ever would have otherwise.

There is no easy answer to this situation.  Unfortunately, it is also something I’m afraid we’ll see more and more of.  That’s what comes when technology makes it easy for someone to publish a book or story or article without having to go through a publishing house, no matter what the size of that house.  The best answer I can come up with right now is to exercise your right not to read a book that offends you and not to discuss it if you think that discussion will lead to more sales and publicity for the book.

UPDATE:  According to the Amazon kindle fora as well as some outside sources, the book has been taken down.  Hopefully, this was done because Amazon found some violation of their terms of service and not simply because of the outrage -- that said, I am thrilled to know this piece of excrement is no longer easily available from at least one major outlet.

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